Suicides among members of the U.S. military are up 20 percent above pre-COVID levels, as doctors across the country note increased levels of mental health problems amid the prolonged shutdowns and increased restrictions put in place to allegedly quell the pandemic and save lives.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy confirmed to the AP that “behavioral health related issues,” including suicides, have risen among servicemembers in recent months.
“I can’t say scientifically, but what I can say is — I can read a chart and a graph, and the numbers have gone up in behavioral health related issues,” McCarthy said.
“We cannot say definitively it is because of COVID. But there is a direct correlation from when COVID started, the numbers actually went up,” he added.
Army officials say the suicide rate among soldiers has risen a stunning 30 percent. The Navy, on the other hand, says their rate has actually gone down. The National Guard reports an increase of about 10 percent, while the Air Force says theirs has remained steady with last year’s levels – which were already high.
Air Force Chief Gen. Charles Brown blames “stress” caused by COVID and the subsequent lockdowns.
“COVID adds stress,” Brown said in a public remarks. “From a suicide perspective, we are on a path to be as bad as last year. And that’s not just an Air Force problem, this is a national problem because COVID adds some additional stressors – a fear of the unknown for certain folks.”
The military says they’re considering options to help reduce the stress, including shortening some deployments that have been made even more difficult by mandatory quarantines.
The impact of COVID shutdowns on mental health comes as no surprise. Back in May, some experts had predicted as many as 75,000 deaths from “despair,” including fatalities attributed to suicide, drug and alcohol abuse stemming from isolation, the loss of income and the destruction of their livelihood. A CDC report released in mid-August revealed roughly one in four young Americans, many of whom live alone in big cities, said they’d contemplated suicide since at some point during the shutdown.